Mystery School

Manlyhallalala Mysteryyyyy

Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.

One of the weirdest and most wonderful sites on the map of spiritual Los Angeles is the Philosophical Research Society (PRS). Occult scholar Manly P. Hall (1901-1990) opened this Mayan-Egyptian-art-deco campus in the Griffith Park neighborhood in 1934. Hall was the author of the legendary encyclopedia of occult lore, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (quoted in the epigraph to Dan Brown's latest novel), and he designed the Philosophical Research Society, or PRS, as his sanctum and school. I'm speaking at PRS this coming Saturday, October 3rd and Sunday, October 4th, at 2 p.m. daily on the history of the occult in America. I'll be considering everything from the career of Manly P. Hall to the growth of "mind power" mysticism. From Occult America:
Hall fancifully spoke of modeling his headquarters after the ancient mystery school of Pythagoras. More practically, PRS provided a cloistered setting where Hall spent the rest of his life teaching, writing, and assembling a remarkable collection of antique texts and devotional objects. His small campus eventually grew to include a 50,000-volume library with catwalks and floor-to-ceiling shelves; a 300-seat auditorium with a throne-like chair for the master teacher; a bookstore; a warehouse for the many titles he wrote and sold; a wood-paneled office (complete with a walk-in vault for antiquities); and a sunny stucco courtyard. Designed in an unusual pastiche of Mayan, Egyptian, and art-deco motifs, PRS became one of the most popular destinations for L.A.'s spiritually curious, and remains so.
Philosophical Research Society




  1. “a rich, fascinating, and colorful history” of mugs being duped by frauds, charlatans and fruitloops? What a depressing contradiction in terms. What next, a rich fascinating and colorful history of bowel disorders?

  2. I’m glad that instead of debating the subject, you feel the need to just be vehemently nasty. Why to make a cogent arguement. I hope you feel better about yourself now.

  3. maybe it is wonderful precisely in part because it represents a history of frauds, charlatans and fruitloops? – I for one believe none of the non-sense, but find it extremely fascinating.

  4. @ #3 CODA6

    to be completely fair, the occult and mystics have never been proven to be anything other than charlatans feasting on the gullible, so there was really no “argument” to be formed.

    where the James Randi meets Andrew Dice Clay rant came from, i cannot say.

  5. The PRS has a great store with lots of Tibetan & Egyptian art & jewelry, and a bookstore with sections on Forteana, UFOs, & Free Energy as well as Sufism, Buddhism, & Christianity.

  6. I’m so glad you’re here with us, Mitch. Don’t let the ritual bloodletting of our guestbloggers deter you from sharing your curious finds. The mystery school looks like a lovely place to explore. Maybe I should take it as a “sign” to head to L.A. this weekend. :)

    And for everyone obssessing on various esoteric philosophies and practices being somehow outside the realm of science… you’re right! So… what’s the problem?

  7. @Cognitive Dissonance

    I’d prefer to have a discussion about a subject instead of berating the author.

    On the other hand maybe a better discussion would be to ask why this subject makes some people so fervently angry…

  8. It makes people upset because the history of mysticism and the occult is a history of poor scholarship, delusion, people deluding other people, often for personal gain, and proponents ignoring science.

    When I read about an elderly gentleman who died an excruciating death from a treatable cancer because his “doctor” diagnosed and treated him with a ridiculous technique, it was depressing. When, after publicly bringing up the ensuing court findings, the major proponent of the technique threatened to sue me for defamation, I think it only reasonable that one might become rather angry. Similarly, when one sees someone like the Maharishi, who makes a fortune through delusion and absurd claims about things like levitation, anger is often an understandable result.

    That said, I do like esoterica and the occult. Just because something isn’t true, and doesn’t necessarily have good effects on the world, doesn’t mean that it can’t be fascinating. While the modern development of “mind power” mysticism has been a major problem for me, with lay-people constantly bringing it up in the context of real science, it’s still interesting, just as Greek mythology is interesting.

  9. It makes people upset because the history of mysticism and the occult is a history of poor scholarship, delusion, people deluding other people, often for personal gain…

    In other words, it’s a lot like just about every other domain of human experience.

    One can argue (strongly and cogently) that science tends to score much better–at least when it’s practiced correctly–but the fact remains that science is but one (admittedly important) facet of the human experience.

    The thing I find somewhat ironic about these arguments is that the loudest, most critical voices in the debate from from a kind of magical thinking, holding on to what should be, as opposed to what is. Perhaps it is a somewhat subtle point, but the whole thing reminds me somewhat of a silly argument about what “true communism” would create. It’s like the invisible unicorn: abstract and interesting perhaps, but lacking any empirical evidence that it could in fact exist. You can believe strongly in the power of empiricism (I know I do), but one has to be decidedly non-empirical to believe in an enlightened society based upon reason and empiricism: it’s never been seen in the history of mankind, and there is no reason to believe it ever will be seen. It reminds me a bit of some people’s religious beliefs.

    [And as an aside, I, for one, wouldn’t want to live in such a society. Truth is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. Is a poem “true?” A painting? To deny the non-rational side of what it is to be human is, well, non-rational, and actually misses a great deal.]

  10. The scary place is the place where mysticism intersects with (pseudo)science. See: DNA citizenship test, electronic dousing equipment, perpetual motion machines, Scientology, fMRI mind-reading, internet addiction, and so on.

    I like mysticism, but keep it far away from science please.

  11. @11 Ambiguity.

    Yes. Art can be true. The logic is there. Sometimes it’s way deeper than we would expect to have to look but; yeah, it’s there. …now I just sound contentious but I’m convinced that there is always a deeper logic.
    (Hmm, shoulda posted this in digital universe item…)
    The experience I am relating this to is of reading poetry after my first ‘Beginners mind’ experience. Some was twisted bullshit, other’s obviously drawn from a source of… gah, truth.

    2k feel stupid.

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